Summer exhibition (RA), until Sunday 12 Aug – go this weekend!

I can’t remember how many summer exhibitions Mr BB and I have visited but it is something we look forward to every year. So it was a disappointment that Mr BB couldn’t make it this time and I had to do it on my own. But I sure wasn’t going to miss it! For those new to the summer exhibition, every year the Royal Academy holds an exhibition of selected works from both academicians (“RA”) and non-academicians. The art is for sale, and ranges from the relatively affordable (generally small pieces or prints in editions of 100) to the expensive (in the five-six digit range). We have yet to buy anything but the summer exhibition is in itself a good showcase of what is happening in the contemporary art world. In contrast to some contemporary shows, there isn’t much that is only there to provoke. This year, I found the rooms were more airy than usual. Previous shows had seen the RA’s walls crammed to capacity, which can make it hard to focus on individual works. This year was different as the smaller pieces were brought to the largest room and arranged in waves, while other rooms were left harmoniously airy.

Upon entering, you will discover that the first room is painted red in homage to Matisse’s The Red Studio (see link:
You can also refer to Matisse’s The Red Room (Harmony in Red).
My highlights include paintings from two deceased Royal Academicians (RA): Adrian Berg (RA), whose works reminded me of Hockney’s landscapes paintings, with elements of Monet’s technique, and John Hoyland (RA), who was showing a pastel painting created using a palette knife. Other interesting works are a Puddle painting (after Bonnard), which was closer to Gerhard Richter than to Bonnard in my view (I love Bonnard!). Finally, my coup de coeur was for an artist named Bernard Dunstan (Rehearsal: the Harp), who you can clearly classify as an impressionist (Mr BB, if you read me, I loved all the pieces from him ;-))

You should know that the rooms are arranged by the RAs, with varying degrees of success. I think this year they did a great job.

In no particular order:

The Lecture Room showed an harmonious arrangement of works of art on a grey background. I was charmed by a couple of artists in the Lecture room, firstly Jane Harris, who I would describe as the ‘Soulages of gold’ because her work on textures of gold is reminiscent of what Soulages did for black. I also liked John Maine (RA)’s Norwegian granite sculptures (“Vortex”). The Newlyn fish market by Ken Howard RA was extraordinary, a modern Gustave Caillebotte. You will also see in the room three “wearable paintings”, paintings on dresses, an “Untitled door handle”, an Andy Warholesque work by Michael Craig Martin RA, price on request…

Room IX is an airy room, dominated by a sculptural piece by Mimmo Paladino, RA made of 90 gold squares and a naked branch coming out of a head depicted on a central gold panel. If I had to ascribe it to an art movement, it would be surrealist. It can be yours for over £120,000 🙂

I didn’t like room X, which would have delivered a disappointing finish for those who followed the rooms in order.

Rooms VII-VIII are sculpture rooms, and included some of my favourites. Very diverse in terms of materials, and among the more modern parts of the summer exhibition. I would highlight the following pieces:
– “Feather Child”, a disturbingly realistic piece that you have to see for yourself; – “Laughing Stock”, a clothing rack with a few thin hangers on it (sorry this is not art, even ready-made), selling for 1000£, at least you can recycle it to hold your clothing!
– “Grey 2012”, a wolf made of plaster and straw, so expressive that you can imagine the artist working on it.
– “Banded Throng”, 25 mask sculptures in indian granite and gold leaf with each individual face having only one feature (lips, eyes, ears…)
– “Self portrait”: be careful, it is not a bin!

The summer exhibition wouldn’t be the summer exhibition without its Architecture room, which appeals to the casual observer as well as adepts of architecture. You can’t help but wonder if the project went through as some of them are extraordinarily imaginative. See the pictures of the Heydar Aliyev centre in Baku, Azerbaijan (Zaha Hadid). Also look out for Chris Wilkinson’s miniature version of his sculpture “From Landscape to Portrait” exhibited in the entrance courtyard.

I didn’t like the hangings in the V room and didn’t like the IV room either, apologies to the Scottish and Irish artists there!

Room III is the largest, and typically covers its walls in paintings this time the hanging is not typical: small works are arranged in a waves, leaving large parts of the walls empty. Also note it is also the drinks room during late openings where you can fortify yourself for further explorations – maybe better to put this one at an earlier stage of your visit than I did!

Rooms I and II are the prints rooms, where visitors can buy relatively affordable art. I loved the “Globalisation” print, which depicts a map of Asia with the countries’ names changed (eg. Cambodia is Latvia!).

Finally, don’t miss the Chicken chair in the Large Weston room and go admire Anselm Kiefer, who regularly shows at the summer exhibition for pleasure (his works are NFS/not for sale, not that we can afford it!). The Small Weston holds an interesting video installation showing music and visual effects together as well as art works including one from Brancusi.

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